This weekend, one Canadian MMA fighter will make history by taking his therapeutic-use exemption for cannabis into the ring for the first time.
With the match, Elias “The Spartan” Theodorou aka The Mane Event intends to further validate his exemption by dominating his opponent.
On Saturday at the Songhees Wellness Centre in Victoria, B.C., he returns to the cage to fight and co-promote the first contact sporting event in Canada since competition was suspended last spring due to the pandemic.
To host the fight, Theodorou’s teaming up with MMA organization Rise FC and streaming platform ImagineBC to broadcast the event online, which starts at 4:20pm PST. He’ll be fighting fellow UFC veteran Matt Dwyer, alongside four other match-ups on the card.
Fighting the stigma
Theodorou is a mixed martial artist and activist who is fighting the stigma of cannabis use among athletes. And recent news indicate his efforts may be impacting the way cannabis use is handled in combat sports at large.
On Tuesday, the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports released its latest set of recommendations, with its medical advisory committee stating that cannabis use among combat sport athletes should be treated as a lesser offence compared to other banned substances.
Aside from reducing weed-related fines, “The committee further states that THC is not a performance-enhancing drug it is a performance suppressor and athletes who test positive for THC should not be punished in the same manner as an athlete that tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs.”
On Feb. 19, 2020, Theodorou became the premier professional athlete to receive a therapeutic-use exemption for medical cannabis, which was granted by the British Columbia Athletic Commission, the province’s official regulator of combat sports.
“It’s pretty amazing to have it all come together,” Theodorou tells Mugglehead over Zoom, “after all this hard work and determination and a little bit of stubbornness, not to take ‘no’ for an answer, and basically get the job done the right way through the proper channels to have my rights approved and recognized.”
Theodorou had previously applied for a therapeutic-use exemption while under contract with the UFC, but the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency denied his applications. He says the stigma towards cannabis use comes from it being categorized as a Schedule I substance in the U.S.
“You can’t argue that there are medical properties for a therapeutic-use exemption when you are being tested for it,” he explains. “That is kind of the uphill battle that a lot of these sports have.”
But after five years of trying in Canada, where weed is legal, the BCAC accepted Theodorou’s well-documented medical use and granted him permission to use medical cannabis in professional sport.
The exemption protects him from penalties if he tests above the established threshold for in-competition use, but requires him to follow fight-week guidelines that allows cannabis use during training but not before a match on fight day.
A precedent set for therapeutic cannabis use in sport
“The process itself was a tough one,” he explains. “Lots of trials and tabulations: whether being forced to take every single first-line medicine like opioids, pain killers and everything in between.”
Theodorou says that even thought he was forced to take specific medicines just to prove they don’t work for him, along with the side effects and the potential for addiction, the results are what matters.
“It was an uphill battle but I am very thankful and happy that I stuck with it and now it’s all coming to fruition March 13 as I look to make history as the first sanctioned cannabis athlete,” he adds.
Elias is a UFC veteran and the first Canadian winner of the reality show and tournament, Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs Australia.
He competed as a top-15 middleweight fighter in the UFC with an 8-3 record before his controversial release in 2019.
He believes his experience charts a course for other athletes to seek the right to use medical cannabis.
“The process and precedent that I set in B.C. actually can translate beyond Canada and that is one of the things I plan on doing moving forward, fighting in jurisdictions both in Canada and worldwide,” Theodorou says.
He last competed in December 2019 at a Prospect Fighting Championship bout in Windsor, Ontario, defeating Hernani Perpetuo by third-round technical knock out. Theodorou is confident that cannabis aids his performance and that will show during Saturday’s fight.
“My last fight was in Ontario, which essentially has cannabis grandfathered in because they don’t test, so I was able to fight my last fight essentially medicating all the way through and the results speak for themselves,” he argues.
But Theodorou believes in practicing sport without performance enhancers, and appreciates that anti-doping organizations make sure that athletes are competing on a level playing field.
“I just think, and so does my doctor, that cannabis shouldn’t be banned, specifically for me and more broadly in general,” he says.
“It says a lot about our society when you can crush a hand full of Vicodin and go out to fight, but god forbid you had a joint a week ago.”
Top image submitted photo